Protect Your Identity

Protect Your PII

A couple of months ago I was at a cafe and a woman was sitting outside the shop at a table. I was inside seated at window that looked right onto her table. I noticed that she was filling out some personal paperwork while also randomly checking Facebook. As I watched her for a little bit longer I realized that the paperwork she was filling out had everything I needed to steal her identity. Name, address, phone number, date of birth, mother’s maiden, and social security number. It was just right there out in the open. I honestly couldn't believe what I was seeing but at the same time I wasn't all that surprised because a lot of people don't protect their personal information. As she mindlessly checked her Facebook, I could have easily taken a photo or written down the information on her paperwork. When I left, I let her know that she should keep that piece of paper upside if she's done with it or put it away because of all the important information on it. Honestly, she had no idea what I was talking about and looked a bit confused. Unfortunately, she, like so many others, are the people you hear about that get their identity stolen and then wonder how the hell it happened. It happens by being careless and not being aware.

The amount of PII (Personal Identifiable Information) or SPI (Sensitive Personal Information) that is being asked of us today is absurd. We are basically giving it away to criminals. Some of you may have heard the term PII/SPI and for some this might be new. For me, I'm very familiar with it due to my background in IT and dealing with sensitive data/information systems. What you need to know about PII/SPI is that it's personal information (name, SSN, birthdate, etc.) that can be used on its own or with other information to identify an individual. Basically, it's information that can be used to steal your identity, commit fraud under your name, stalk you, rob you, and so on. Often times this information is taken by criminals and used against you. It's even worse now with social media. We literally are giving criminals all the information they need and potentially opening ourselves up to being targets.

It amazes me to see the amount of information we are so willing to give out and we aren't helping ourselves either with the amount of information we put on social media.

I know we are in the digital age where we feel the need to document every aspect of our lives on social media. This type of social networking leaves a trail of personal details that can make it easier for cyber-criminals to find out what they need to know about you. For all of the social media devotees, I've got a few tips for you to consider before posting your next piece of content.

10 Things to Consider Before You Post to Social Media

via shutterstock

via shutterstock

  1. Is the photo/video you are about to publish giving away too much information? For instance, your home address, your home cross streets, work location, or family addresses.

  2. Just because a social media bio asks for the information doesn't mean you need to provide it or that it needs to be the right information. Instead of using your real name, why not use nom du plume to publish under?

  3. Do brands or other social media people want to send you free swag? Using your home address comprises you and your family’s privacy. Instead setup a separate "business" mailing address. While it might be a pain to go to your local FedEx or Mailbox store to pick up your packages, this gives you the ease of knowing that you are not giving out your home address to complete strangers.

  4. Be strategic when 'gramming your boarding pass. I love a good airplane 'gram but your boarding pass has your name and flight information. Use one of your fancy photo editing apps and blur or white that info out.

  5. Don't give away the exact dates of any travel on social media. I've seen countless comments on social media where someone will post content stating they are going to New York (for example) next month. Then multiple people will comment and say, 'Me too, I'm going to be there from [date] to [date] and staying at [hotel]." Unless your account is private, anyone can see this information and you've just told a potential cyber-criminal that you won't be home during that time.

  6. Remove all your mailing labels before showing off your freebies/orders in your next video haul whether that be on InstaStory, Snapchat, or YouTube. The number of home addresses I've seen from the bloggers unveiling their #bloggermail blows my mind. Please, please, please rip the mailing label off before you advertise to the world where you live.

  7. You can GeoTag later. I'm sure you want everyone to know that you're at the hottest new restaurant but maybe save that tag for later...after you've left.

  8. Not everything needs to be put on social media and if you feel it does, it doesn't necessarily need to be done in that exact moment. Wait until you have already left then post your photo and then tag all the places you're at. It's not difficult for people to determine where you are based on decor or background objects of photos, especially if they are familiar with that location.

  9. I love a good home tour as much as the next person but doing video home tours basically gives a potential intruder the layout of your house. And if you've got a lot expensive stuff (i.e. bags, shoes, guns) you are just giving them some more incentive.

  10. I know a lot of social media influencers get comped for featuring a hotel they are staying at. While this is great that you worked out this opportunity don't be afraid to add to your contract that you want to offset your publish days especially if they are asking for Instagram posts. This means start advertising your stay a little later in the trip and a few days after you've left. There is no harm in posting about your magnificent stay later so long as you are being honest and keeping to you contract.

While it may sounds extreme for some to go to these measures on social media, it's nothing more than common sense tips that we often forget about it or don't even think about.

Minimizing the information you make available on social media is just one aspect of keeping your information safe. In everyday life, you still need to aware and cognizant of these other ways you are giving away your information.

8 Tips to Keep Your PII Safe

  1. Often times when at a retail store, the sales associate will ask you for PII to look up your account in the system. Instead of relaying this information verbally hand them your driver’s license or something else that has that information. Additionally, if they ask for your SSN, counter back and ask if there is an alternative piece of information they could use to find your account. If not, write it on a piece a paper and ask for it back so you can properly discard it at home (aka shred it). I've seen many sales associated just throw PII right in the garbage.

  2. Resist the urge to sign-up using paper mailing lists at the checkout counter. The fancy guest books or notepads urging you to sign so you can stay in the know of the latest sales are there for anyone to look at and take the information down. If you really want to receive email updates, go to the company's website. More than likely they have a place for you to submit your info and often times offer a discount code to use when you do.

  3. Keep your credit cards close. With chip readers making their way into the world now it's becoming a bit easier for thieves to get credit card information. Don't have your credit card sitting on the counter waiting to pay. Keep it in your hand until it's time to process the transaction. If you're at a restaurant and they don't have something to enclose your credit card it, keep it face down on the tray/table under the check.

  4. Beware of phishing scams. Did you receive a random email or call from someone claiming to be your bank/credit card/mortgage/etc. company and they need this information for various reasons? Don't reply to the email and/or hang up the phone. Call your bank/credit card/mortgage company yourself and let them know you received a call/email and you want to verify it's legit. This type of activity of seeking information is called phishing. Basically, criminals are looking for easy targets that are more than willing to give up personal information. They think if they worry you by telling you something is wrong with your account that you'll easily give them the info they need.

  5. Use secure passwords and change them often. Whether it's your social media, email, or bank accounts ensure that you are using strong passwords and that they get changed often. Here are some great tips from Connect Safely to help you create strong passwords.

  6. Be careful of public Wi-Fi. Who doesn't love free Wi-Fi? However, that "free" Wi-Fi can actually come with a hefty price tag if you're not cautious with how you are using it. While they are great when you're traveling and need to look up the directions of a restaurant don't conduct personal business over a free Wi-Fi network. If you need to handle any type of bank transactions or anything that involves submitting PII wait until you are back to a secure Wi-Fi connection. If you must conduct business on public Wi-Fi, check to ensure that the site you are connecting to is using a secure HTTPS browser as this means the information being sent between your browser and the website is encrypted. If public Wi-Fi is your main access to the Internet, you may want to setup and pay for a VPN (Virtual Private Network) and browse through it when on public Wi-Fi. Anyone in the local area will only be able to see that you’re connected to the VPN, not what you’re doing on it.

  7. Question the people who are asking for your information. Before you share you or your family’s information ask why they need it, how they will protect it, and what the consequences are of not sharing the information. Some of the information they are asking for, they may not necessarily need.

  8. Be aware of your surroundings. Don't forego your situational awareness just because you are at your favorite coffee shop. While you may think that no one at your local cafe is out to do harm, there are people with bad intentions that wander public areas looking for these 'easy targets'. If you choose to fill out PII in public, be aware of who can see it. Keep the information out of sight and secured.

Some people may call this type of mentality paranoid but it's reality. This is about safeguarding your information from potential cyber-criminals and identity thieves. The reality is that there are malicious people in this world and they are preying on nice, goodhearted people. Don't make things easy for them. Use your head, trust your gut, and protect your information.


Disclaimer: The information provided here is based on my opinions and for informational use only. I am not an expert in this field and any items/services/products/advice mentioned in these posts should be used at your own discretion and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. You can read more about my privacy & disclosure policies here.